Turning Japanese

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"Turning Japanese"
Single by The Vapors
from the album New Clear Days
Released 1980
Format 7" square record, 45RPM, CD
Genre New wave,[1][2] power pop[2][3][4]
Length 3:41[5]
Label United Artists
Writer(s) David Fenton, Edward Bazalgette
Producer(s) Vic Coppersmith-Heaven
The Vapors singles chronology
"Turning Japanese"
"News at Ten"

"Turning Japanese" is a song released by the English band The Vapors from their album New Clear Days, and the song for which they are known best. The song's lyrics consist mainly of the singer talking about pictures of his love. Musically, the song features an Oriental riff played on guitar.


Songwriter David Fenton explains: "Turning Japanese is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn't expect to."[6]

The band knew they had a success with "Turning Japanese", so much so that they waited until their second single before releasing it, fearing that if they released it as their first they would become "one-hit wonders", but they never matched its success.[7]

The song enjoyed some sales in Japan after its great success in Australia, where it spent 2 weeks at number 1 during June 1980.[8]

"Turning Japanese" was believed to euphemistically refer to masturbation—i.e. the act causing the man to squint and therefore resemble a Japanese's person's eyes[2] or possibly, referencing the British slang word "Jap's eye" (the slit of the penis) and the act of turning referring to the process of masturbation—but the song's author Fenton denied that claim in an interview on VH1. "It could have been (turning) Portuguese, Lebanese, anything that fitted with that phrase. It has nothing to do with the Japanese." "The first time the idea of masturbation came up was when we were touring America. It was written about that 'turning Japanese' was an English phrase for masturbation, which it wasn't."

Guitarist Rob Kemp went on to say, "It's a love song about somebody who had lost their girlfriend and was going slowly crazy, turning Japanese is just all the cliches of our angst... turning into something you never expected to."

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1980) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[8] 1
Canada (RPM 50 Singles)[9] 6
Ireland (IRMA)[10] 4
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[5] 9
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[11] 3
US Billboard Hot 100[12] 36
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[12] 34


  1. ^ Andy Kellman. "VH1: I Love the '80s review at Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 28 June 2013.  "Anyone who watched the televised series won't be surprised by the amount of new wave that's here, including the Vapors' "Turning Japanese,""
  2. ^ a b c Stewart Mason. "Turning Japanese review at Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 28 June 2013.  "a perennial classic of the new wave era" "the giddy power pop rush of the song itself" "in the U.S., (...) it's one of the most beloved singles of the new wave era"
  3. ^ "One-Hit Wonders of 1980". Toponehitwonders.com. Retrieved 28 June 2013.  "In our opinion, one of the all-time great one-hit wonders and a power pop classic."
  4. ^ Andrew Ellis (16 September 2005). "Power Pop Anthems". The Digital Fix. Poisonous Monkey Limited. Retrieved 26 June 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Charts.org.nz – The Vapors – Turning Japanese". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  6. ^ "Turning Japanese by The Vapors". Songfacts.com. Tonemedia.com. Retrieved 4 April 2009. 
  7. ^ Andy Davis. "On the Vapor-trail". Parengstrom.com. Retrieved 23 June 2008. 
  8. ^ a b "Australia n°1 Hits - 80's". Worldcharts.co.uk. Retrieved 9 June 2013. 
  9. ^ "Top Singles - Volume 34, No. 6, December 20 1980". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  10. ^ "The Irish Charts - All there is to know". IRMA. Retrieved 28 July 2013.  Only one result when searching "Vapors"
  11. ^ "Archive Chart" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  12. ^ a b "The Vapors awards at Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
Preceded by
"Tired of Toein' the Line" by Rocky Burnette
Australian Kent Music Report number-one single
23 June 1980 – 30 June 1980
Succeeded by
"Can't Stop the Music" by Village People